Islam at Babson: Culture and religion

Islam at Babson: Culture and religion

Members of Babson’s Muslim Student Association. Left to right: Mintis Hankerson, Samina Baig, Gyda Sumadi, Shazeem Siddiqi, Anas Ahmed, Tareef Rahman, Mahd Sharif, and Irfaan Kazi. Photo courtesy of Lyda Sumadi.

Editor’s note: In the wake of the tragedies in Paris and Beirut, perpetrated in the name of Islam, let the beloved community members featured in this article serve as proof that Islam is a religion of peace.

As Fatoumata Sow (‘18) says, “Islam is a religion of peace, and like any other religion people pick and choose what they want to follow. The people who made the attacks in Paris were not just Muslims—they were terriorists.”

Babson College has always taken pride in its diversity, with enrollment statistics for the class of 2019 consisting of 39% domestic minority students, 25% international, and 45 represented nations from around the world. However, despite these impressive numbers, some would argue that diversity is still quite lacking at Babson, especially in religion.

“We [at Babson] are ethnically diverse, but I don’t think we are in social, religious, and even economic terms,” Noora Al-Mana, a recent Babson grad who identifies as Muslim, said. “I think I’ve only come across around ten Muslims throughout my four years at Babson, and they were all international except for one person.”

Most would agree that the Muslim population on campus is not as present as it is on perhaps other colleges across the country, which is mainly believed due to the almost nonexistence of hijab (headscarf) wearing women at Babson. This is true except for a few students—one in particular, Gyda Sumadi, has covered her hair since age 13 and continues to do so in college.

When asked about the lack of hijab-wearing women on campus and the Muslim student representation overall, Sumadi traced it back to the differences between culture and religion, and how that affects the way students express their faith.

“I wouldn’t say that the Muslim student body isn’t active, but when it comes to religion…a lot of people who come from a more secular and cultural background may connect culturally with Islam, but don’t really practice. I think people sometimes believe that culture and religion are the same thing, when in reality it isn’t quite so,” she said.

Mintis Hankerson, another Muslim student, further explained, “When you grow up in a Muslim country, it pretty much affects how you live, in my opinion. Because everything is Islam, including the politics, so it makes your whole life culturally Islam. Whereas when you live in America you have to put in that extra effort to practice Islam.”

This highlights America’s, and even Babson’s, slightly ignorant belief that the only true way of proving a person’s faith is through their dress, diet, and prayer. In actuality, one can be Muslim through their lifestyle—a lifestyle that may be obvious in Islamic countries that value modesty, but becomes less obvious in the US, a country that often demands a very Western “in-your-face” attitude in order to prove one’s identity.

Not to mention, it can be challenging to even want to prove one’s religious faith in the explicit Western way, considering that “Muslims have already faced so much scrutiny in the U.S. due to negative stereotypes created from terrorist attacks,” according to Shaz Siddiqi, another member of Babson’s Muslim Student Association.

However, there are some deeper reasons why certain Muslim students are more culturally, rather than religiously, connected to Islam, and these reasons stem back to the socioeconomic status of Babson students.

“To be blunt about it, within these Islamic countries abroad, the more affluent people sort of… not lose their religious identity, but they Westernize themselves through lavish lifestyles and all kinds of stuff. And most of the international population on campus is rather ‘up there,’ so they really bring with them that Western aspect of their country in order to perhaps assimilate,” Irfaan Kazi said. “However, it’s not a loss of religion, it’s a tweak in culture.”

But regardless of these areas of ambiguity for understanding Islam in Babson, people are overall accepting and welcoming of the various religions represented in the undergraduate class.

“Babson is great. The main thing about having an international population is that nothing is seen as odd because everyone is accustomed to everything. Even though there aren’t as many women on campus here that cover their hair, no one is unfamiliar with it, especially the international population,” Sumadi said. “Even the domestic population—everyone knows what it is.”

Al-Mana agrees: “In my experience, the people I met and surrounded myself with at Babson are generally very prideful of their faith and background and express it as they always have without being rude or disrespectful to differing beliefs.”